KY Forward: Candidates expecting my vote have to be transparent, address key issues

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mike Farrell: Candidates expecting my vote have to be transparent, address key issues

I can’t vote for Steve Beshear for governor. He doesn’t think I matter.

I can’t vote for Todd P’Pool for attorney general either. He shows the same contempt for me.

You see neither thinks I, a citizen of this commonwealth – a taxpayer and a voter – matter enough that he is willing to talk about plans for the office for which he would like my support.

Beshear wants a second four-year term as Kentucky’s governor. But when he had the chance to talk about his plans for Kentucky’s schoolchildren with his two opponents, he showed his contempt for all Kentucky voters and me by not participating in the KET debate.

Really? What issue is of greater concern to Kentuckians than education? How can I vote for a candidate who doesn’t think he needs to talk candidly about the most important concern in the state?

Oh, I get it all right. I wasn’t born last week. The polls say Beshear has an enormous lead over his Republican opponent, Sen. David Williams, and the independent candidate Gatewood Galbraith. But that doesn’t entitle him to play hide and seek with the voters.

Beshear is more concerned about re-election than anything else. It doesn’t matter to him that he owes us an explanation of what he plans to do in a second term, how he will find the money to improve the education today’s children deserve or how he will create jobs.

And I haven’t missed the irony either. Beshear talked about bringing greater transparency to state government and even formed a commission to work on it after his election in 2007. But now, when he wants a second term, his plans are as transparent as the Ohio River after a heavy spring rain.

Instead of talking candidly and answering questions during a KET debate, Gov. Hide and Seek would convince us he’s the right candidate for Kentucky governor with his canned speeches and his glitzy ads.

Running away from your opponents and hiding from the voters may be good politics when you are way ahead, but it is not good for a democracy. The governor seems to have forgotten what he should have learned in college and law school, that public officials are accountable to the voters and that citizens must be well informed in order to choose the best leaders.

We know even less about Todd P’Pool. He seems just as contemptuous of voters and their right to be informed. The Scripps Howard First Amendment Center (of which I am the director) and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues invited Mr. P’Pool and his opponent, Democrat Jack Conway, who also is seeking re-election, to discuss their philosophy of open government and enforcement of the state’s Open Records Act and Open Meetings Act at a forum at the University of Kentucky.

The P’Pool camp suggested three dates, and then announced that because of a scheduling conflict he would not participate on the date Conway could attend.

It seems not to matter that one of the most important functions of the office of Kentucky attorney general is to rule on complaints that a public agency has violated the state’s Open Records Act by denying access to documents that should be public or violated the state’s Open Meeting Acts by excluding the public from their discussions.

The commonwealth has good sunshine laws enacted to guarantee openness. But if an attorney general fails to enforce those laws, their effectiveness diminishes.

How can I vote for a candidate who won’t talk about his philosophy of government transparency or discuss how he believes the office should address these appeals, usually more than 250 each year?

I want to know – as I hope other citizens want to know – that whoever is elected attorney general on Nov. 8 is not going to try to turn off the lights in Frankfort and in local government offices so that officials, elected and appointed, can operate in secret. Their ability to misuse their offices and to ignore the public good would increase significantly.

I also want to know – as I hope other citizens want to know – that whoever is elected governor on Nov. 8 is going to make education a priority for the next four years. I am convinced ensuring our children have the best education possible is essential to improving the long-term outlook for my state.

Former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote in a decision 40 years ago that “Open debate and discussion of public issues are vital to our national health.” I wonder what he would have thought of these races?

I find the unwillingness of Mr. Beshear and Mr. P’Pool to engage the public in a discussion of these fundamental issues insulting and destructive of good government.

Rather than inform “we the people” in a debate on their ideas, they have chosen to hide behind their TV ads and web pages and meetings with their supporters.

I can’t vote for either one of them regardless of their qualifications or their opponents. I want public servants who are about democracy and government transparency; these two are about politics.

Mike Farrell is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications and director of the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center at the University of Kentucky. He was a journalist for nearly 20 years at The Kentucky Post. His views are his own and not those of the university or of KyForward.

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